Get your

Hey, Star Wars fans: You can now tap into the Force for free.

Electronic Arts on Thursday announced that it has launched its “free-to-play” option for “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” its massively multi-player online game. Consumers who choose this option can download and play the game for free, but get access to a much more limited set of features than do subscribers. Among the limits: free-to-players can’t send in-game mail messages, can only use chat in certain areas of the game and can only collect up to 200,000 game credits.

EA announced this summer that it would develop a free-to-play option for “The Old Republic.” Previously, consumers had to pay $40 just to get the game and then another $13 to $15 a month to play it. Now players  only have to pay those subscription fees if they want to access more features and content.

Set 3,000 years before the events of the “Star Wars” films, “The Old Republic” allows users to play as Jedis, Siths or bounty hunters and as one of several different species. Like other MMOGs, “The Old Republic” allows users to go on quests and interact with other players.

EA studio Bioware spent six years and an estimated $100 million to $200 million making “The Old Republic.” But the game has been a big disappointment for the company. Soon after launch, the game had some 1.7 million subscribers, but that number quickly fell off. By August, it had less than 1 million subscribers; the company declined to update that number in its most recent earnings report.

By offering a free version of the game, EA can potentially lure in new players who might be enticed to buy extra content or even subscribe to the game.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (251 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.